Theoretical Biology

Responsible : Sébastien GOURBIERE (MCFHC UPVD)

Learning about the evolutionary potential and phenotypic plasticity of natural populations is essential to explain current species diversity and distribution, and to anticipate their responses to environmental changes (1). Such basic knowledge is becoming increasingly critical to assist public policies that aim at preserving biodiversity and its services (2) as well as our food safety (3). The escalation of sequencing technologies provides a timely opportunity to unravel how genes and non-genic DNA interact to shape the organisms’ complexity (4) and populations’ response to changes in their environment (5). An emerging scientific challenge is to integrate the advancing knowledge of molecular mechanisms underlying genomic interactions into our understanding of the eco-evolutionary dynamics of natural populations.

We aim at addressing this challenge by developing ‘Eco-genomic’ theories that bring together molecular, demographic and evolutionary processes within proof-of-concepts models (6) that have the potential to strengthen experimental approaches through multimodel inference (7). We are focusing our efforts to provide theoretical insights into two general questions about the dynamics of transposable elements and their impacts on plant evolution.

1. What are the determinants of retro-transposons dynamics within populations of genomes? We intend here to provide systematic predictions about the effect of epigenetic silencing, selection against deleterious effects of the elements, ectopic recombination and plant demography on the dynamics of the mean number of retro-transposons per genome and its variations between individual genomes.

2. What is the contribution of retro-transposons to plant adaptation? We model the effects of retro-transposable elements on plant life-history traits to identify their potential contributions to the adaptive response of the host to different types of environmental stresses. Two projects are being developed to look at retro-transposon dynamics and contribution to adaptation following interspecific hybridization (Project ‘PolyplOriza’, PI O. Panaud) and during viral infections (Project ‘SeaCide’, PI G. Piganeau).

(1) Chevin et al. 2010. Adaptation, Plasticity, and Extinction in a Changing Environment: Toward a Predictive Theory. PLoS  Biol 8(4):e1000357.

(2) Cardinale et al. 2012. Biodiversity loss and its impact on humanity. Nature 486:59-67

(3) Lobell et al. 2011. Climate trends and global crop production since 1980. Science 333:616–620.

(4) Chi KR. 2016. The dark side of the human genome. Nature 538(7624):275-277.

(5) Rey et al. 2016. Adaptation to Global Change: A Transposable Element–Epigenetics Perspective. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 31(7), 514–526

(6) Servedio et al. 2014. Not Just a Theory - The Utility of Mathematical Models in Evolutionary Biology. PLoS Biol 12(12): e1002017

(7) Grueber et al. 2011. Multimodel inference in ecology and evolution: challenges and solutions. J. Evol. Biol 24:699-711.

Team :

ESPIAUT Marc-Alexandre - Doctorant

GOURBIERE Sébastien - Maître de conférences UPVD

ROSALIE Martin - Maître de conférences UPVD

ZITOUN Jean-Loup - Doctorant

Publications :

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